Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960

Judith A. Wakefield                                                                                                            Column for November 24, 2002

  Holiday Mail Order - Your Rights and Responsibilities

  The holiday season means gifts and that means shopping.  There are thousands of mail-order companies that send catalogs out regularly.  It’s really convenient to do armchair shopping, paying for shipping may seem like a small penalty for the convenience of shopping from home.  For many companies you can do you shopping over the Internet, do so carefully.

  Even though mail order and Internet shopping have advantages, complaints about mail order and Internet shopping are common.  Complaints include failure of companies to deliver, long delivery times, unsatisfactory merchandise, failure to make merchandise exchanges or refunds and failure to respond to consumer questions.

  The consumer has rights and responsibilities when ordering by mail or Internet:

Your Responsibilities

  Before placing an order:

·                      Read the advertisement carefully.  Is all needed information provided?

·                      Find and review the refund and exchange policy of the company.  Do they say “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” “Unconditional Guarantee” or “You may return an item for prompt refund if you are not completely satisfied?”  It is important for you to know that merchandise can be exchanged or returned for a refund.

·                      Consider the purchase carefully.  Do you need and want this item?  Could you purchase the same or similar item locally?

·                      Find out if there is any type of buying plan involved before you decide to place the order.  Are you committed to join some kind of buying club, such as a book, record, food, or cosmetic club?


If you have considered all of the above and decide to order by mail or Internet:

·                      Complete the order form according to directions.

·                      Recheck order form to ensure that you have correctly filled it in.  Have you clearly identified merchandise ordered, correct size, color, etc?

·                      Double-check your address. Is it correct and readable?

·                      Make a copy of your completed order form and of the advertisement being answered, make a copy of the web page and the order form if ordering through the Internet..

·                      Make a note of the address (both web page and mailing address) to which the order is sent.

·                      If ordering by mail make payments by personal check, cashier’s check, money order or credit card.  Don’t send cash.  When ordering through the Internet, purchases are charged to a credit card.  Make sure you don’t charge more than you can handle.

Your Rights

  You have certain rights when you order by mail or Internet.  According to a Federal Trade Commission ruling on mail order or Internet shopping:

·                      Merchandise must be shipped within 30 days of receipt of the order or within the time disclosed in the advertisement, or within 50 days if you are applying for credit.  If the company cannot deliver merchandise within this period, they company must contact you and tell you the expected delivery time and offer to refund your money if you don’t want to wait until delivery can be made.

·                      If merchandise cannot be delivered within the new delivery time the order is automatically canceled and your money refunded unless you notify the company in writing that you are willing to wait longer.

·                      If your canceled order was charged to a credit card, the company has one billing cycle to make the adjustments to your account.  If the order was paid with a check or money order, the company has only seven days in which to refund the money.  You do not have to accept a refund in the form of “credit” to be used for other merchandise from the company.

·                      Not all mail order purchases are covered by this ruling.  Some that are not covered are magazines, seeds, plants, and photo finishing.

·                      If you have not received your order within a reasonable time (over 30 days or the time specified in the advertisement), find out if your check has been cashed.  If you don’t have the canceled check, contact the bank to find out if it has been paid.  If it has not been paid you may want to place a stop payment on the check and cancel the order.  To cancel, write the company telling them that since your check was not cashed the company did not accept the order and that you have stopped payment on your check and canceled the order.

  If the check has been cashed, decide whether or not you want the merchandise sent or the money returned.  Then write a letter to the company stating your request.  If you do not receive the merchandise or a refund within a proper time, file a complaint with the Direct Marketing Association (1101 12th Street North West, Washington , D.C. 20036) or Division of Consumer Services of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (407 S. Calhoun Street, Mayo Building, Tallahassee, FL 32398).  Or you may file a complaint on line at:

  If you have an unsatisfactory shopping experience, the best course of action is to contact the retailer. Take your business elsewhere in the future. 

  If the mail order problem appears to be fraudulent, contact a postal inspector directly or through your local postmaster.  Provide the inspector with all related evidence including a copy of the order, all correspondence, advertisement and even envelopes.